Anger and Road Rage
William DeFoore, Ph.D.
[Worried about other people's road rage?]
DEALING WITH ROAD RAGE
That's My Life You're Playing With!
It is clear that the most dangerous place you can be is flying down the highway in your motorized vehicle. Think about it. There you are, a fairly soft, vulnerable creature sitting in your huge chunk of metal hurling down strips of concrete at break-neck speeds often only inches away from others doing the same thing.
Some of your fellow travelers are a little confused. They think the highway is a video game or a racetrack--or maybe that's you that drives that way! The only time the highway looks like a video game is when some car, truck or motorcycle is treating it like one. To some people, it is actually fun to drive their chunk of metal within inches of your chunk of metal and scare the daylights out of others! If you think that way, then keep reading...and think again.
And then there are those who are just downright aggressive behind the wheel. Some of us actually use the relative anonymity of driving alone in their vehicle as an opportunity to release the anger they are not venting anywhere else. That means that all the other motorists are potential victims of anger release from total strangers. This makes the road dangerous for you and everyone.
Ignoring the flow of traffic, driving slowly in the fast lane, driving too fast in any lane, tailgating, cutting into openings that are not quite big enough, making last minute decisions that shock other motorists and requiring them to make sudden adjustments are all aggressive and dangerous moves to make when driving.
You know that rush you feel when you are exposed to one of these situations? That surge of energy that pulses through your body? Well, that is a mix of survival-based fear and anger. Your life is being threatened out there on the open road, and there is virtually nothing you can do about it. The road-rage addicts get off on this rush. The rest of us just want to get where we’re going in one piece.
How often do strangers threaten your physical life on a daily basis? If you’re like most people, it only happens on the highway. What an excellent opportunity to study your own anger! If these examples apply to you, you can use your driving experience as a sort of laboratory in which to study your anger and anger response patterns.
When you are pushed, crowded, tailgated, honked at or otherwise put at risk on the road, your fear is saying to you, “Danger! Watch out!” and your anger is saying, “I don’t like this and I’d like to do something about it!”
Do you see anything wrong with these reactions? Of course not. They are natural and healthy. The fear is because of the threat, and the anger simply brings the question of what to do about the threat. Anger is designed to spur action to protect life, limb and loved ones. That is its most basic level of functioning.
Options for protective action on the highway:
Unhealthy options include: making an obscene or aggressive gesture, yelling and cursing, following the dangerous driver and running them off the road (becoming a dangerous driver yourself), or in the worst-case scenario reaching for a handgun. All of these of course add to the problem, and in some cases are against the law. If you’re not careful, your anger will make you part of the problem, and then someone else will have to figure out what to do about you!
Healthy options include: calling your local free cell phone number for reporting dangerous drivers (check with your cell phone customer service for this number), driving all the more carefully to counter the insanity of the driver who has just endangered your life, or silently wishing for that driver to be stopped by a patrolman soon, before s/he kills someone.
I learned in a defensive drivers class that if someone is tailgating you—which is one of the most common and frequent ways in which your safety is endangered on the road—you can just slow down to a speed where 1) the driver is very likely to pass you and 2) if an accident happens there will be less damage because of the slower speed. This is an interesting option from the standpoint of learning about anger. Regarding your own anger, it gives you a way of communicating to the tailgater that you don’t like what they’re doing, and it further shows them that you are not going to be intimidated into driving faster or dangerously to get out of their way. This is a good example of a healthy anger response.
The idea here is that we need lots of options for dealing with our anger. One reason is that anger is so closely connected with the emotion of love, and we want as much love in our lives as possible.
Here are some techniques to use:
-Imagine sending love and joy to every motorist you see. Sounds hokey, but all we're trying to do here is get you and everybody else where you're going safely--so, whatever works!
-Imagine that it is your loved ones that are in those other cars.
-Remember that every one of the motorists around you has a mother, father, children and may in fact be a good person that you could like!
-Turn on some soothing music.
-Breathe deeply, and try to relax your muscles.
-Wherever you are in a hurry to get to, think about how you will feel if you get a ticket, have a wreck or go to the hospital instead of arriving. Go ahead and slow down and risk being late.
DEALING WITH OTHER PEOPLE'S ROAD RAGE
Here are some ideas about how to respond effectively to other drivers' road rage:
-Clear a path for them. Your main goal is to be safe, so try to avoid aggravating the angry driver and move out of their way as safely as possible.
-Recall those times when you've been in a hurry, angry or irritated yourself, behind the wheel. Many of us have done some of the same things road ragers do at times.
-Practice deep breathing, and try to relax your body. This will help you to keep clear thinking, and it will prevent you from getting as emotionally upset.
-Pray for yourself and the other drivers (including the road rager), if that works with your spiritual/religious practices. This will help you calm down and focus, and get you out of the victim mode.
-Try to think about something funny, or a recent time when you were happy. This will shift your out of the "fight or flight" mode that recuces your reaction time.
-If you find yourself too often angry in traffic, then you will benefit from these Anger Management Techniques.
-To become more peaceful and relaxed while driving and in everything you do, get your copy of this audio program on meditation.
This article is an excerpt from Dr. DeFoore's best-selling book, Anger: Deal With It, Heal With It, Stop It From Killing You.